Harvick & Logano Win Duels; Bryon Claims Pole for the Daytona 500
Few sports start their season with the Super Bowl. But, as NASCAR fans know, traditions run deep in stock car racing and especially at the home of the "Birthplace of Speed". Since 1959, when Daytona International Speedway replaced the hard-packed sands on Ormond Beach, race teams have traveled south to break in their new rides for the upcoming Monster Energy Cup Series. Sixty years later, not much has changed, as the forty-two cars that qualified, lined up for the 2019 Daytona Duels at NASCAR's premier super speedway.
Going into Thursday's Gander RV Duel races, only the front-row qualifiers William Bryon, who won the pole for the 61st running of the Daytona 500, and his teammate, Alex Bowman, had guaranteed starting spots. Byron was a pleasant surprise for Hendrick Motorsports recording four top-10 finishes as a rookie in 2018. Nonetheless, it takes time to build your legacy at Daytona. The late Dale Earnhardt Sr. set a record by winning one of the Twin Races for ten consecutive years (twelve times overall) before going to victory lane in the 1998 Daytona 500.
Gander RV Duel #1
For Duel 1, William Bryon started on point after locking down the top qualifying position followed by Alex Bowman and two other Hendrick Motorsports teammates. It was obvious early on that the top groove was faster and passing was tricky. About midway through the first race, Kyle Busch had an uneventful spin after a nudge from Jimmie Johnson in a three-wide situation. Two pit road violations would seal the coffin on Busch's night. During an early round of green flag pitstops, Kevin Harvick put his Ford Mustang in front leading 44 of the 60 laps. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard finished second and third, respectfully.
Gander RV Duel #2
In the second Gander RV Duel at Daytona, everyone seemed content to stay in line following the new Ford Mustang of Clint Bowyer. So much so, that nobody was interested in creating a do-or-die moment. Chase Elliott provided most of the action as the Hendrick Motorsport's driver would dive off the top groove to blast by a couple of cars, only to be re-passed. On the money lap, Joey Logano was running fourth with the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin on his bumper. Logano made a perfectly timed dive to the bottom with a push from teammate Ryan Blaney. That was all the defending Monster Energy Cup Champion needed.
Yes, due the non-standard, duel-race knockout system, qualifying for the Daytona 500 is unique. And yes, the Duels can be a bit a dull with drivers trying to protect their rides for the Great American Race. However, now that the starting grid is set for the season opener, teams and drivers can focus on finding a winning race-day setup before the 2:30 pm start of the 61st annual Daytona 500 at the famed 2.5 mile trioval on February 17 at Daytona International Speedway.